Essay: Whose Lives Matter?

On the Hatred and Willful Disregard for Black Women's Lives

White girls are fed fairy tales in which a princess cursed into eternal sleep is awakened by a kiss from a white prince who becomes her happily-ever-after love. If as feminists we are to challenge the asinine patriarchal fuckery of these fairy tales, what are we doing to challenge the nightmare realities that Black girls are raised with in which a Black woman asleep in her bed in her home is murdered in a hail of gunshots by police who barge into her apartment?

What does the murder of Breonna Taylor teach Black girls about the value of their lives? What are they learning about safety and where they can find it? What are Black girls learning about justice, what it is, and who deserves it?

Justice Ginsburg sat on the Supreme Court of the United States for 27 years - the length of Breonna Taylor’s lifespan.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 87, was a slayer of fairy tales. She did not need dragons or princes. She was her own prince and dragon at once. From her love story with a husband who reveled in her intellect and was happy to walk - and cook - in her shadow to her many legal battles for gender equality, she became the hero whose signature glasses and collar girls and women would don as immediately recognizable costumes for Halloween.

But which girls and which women?

Justice Ginsburg sat on the Supreme Court of the United States for 27 years - the length of Breonna Taylor’s lifespan. On Wednesday, the markedly different ways the United States marked the end of these two women’s lives was a jarring reminder that we do not ask enough “Which girls and which women?”, nor do we ask enough who is best served by courts and the legal system. The past few months of a Black-led uprising have forced more to question who the police serve and protect - white power and property, in case you were wondering. But that question must extend to the so-called criminal justice system, from the lowest to the highest court.

Patriarchy is a system of oppressions which privileges male dominance. Alternatively, I urge you to think of patriarchy as an octopus. Yes, I know, the octopus is a beautiful and cunningly intelligent creature but it is precisely for that reason that it is the perfect creature to convey how patriarchy works. Patriarchy is not just about men and it is not just about misogyny. In the name of a feminism-fits-all, patriarchy has been reduced to men being shit to women. Which women? In what ways besides misogyny is patriarchy shit to women? I am not white or wealthy or heterosexual. I am able bodied and I am cisgender. Which of patriarchy’s tentacles am I fighting and how can I be aware of and supportive of other feminists as they too fight? Watch my patriarchy-as-an-octopus explanation and you will understand how white supremacy, capitalism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, ageism, and other forms of oppression undergird patriarchy:

On Wednesday, the ways America marked the lives of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Breonna Taylor was a reminder of how easily we are trapped by those tentacles of patriarchy.

In Washington D.C., Justice Ginsburg was brought to lie in state at the Supreme Court. In a moving tribute to her legacy on the highest court in the United States, the people who clerked for her lined the steps of the court to honour her as her casket was carried in. Only one of Ginsburg’s 120 clerks during her tenure at SCOTUS was Black.

One Black, male clerk during 27 years.

The headline of this oped in the Washington Post is utterly shit. Fuck Brett Kavanagh. I am still posting this though because I want you to have the numbers:

Accounting the hiring of all racial minorities since 2005 — including Asian Americans, Native Americans and Latinos — only 12% of Ginsburg clerks were nonwhite. That ranks her much closer to the conservative justices than the progressives with whom she frequently sides with in cases.

Meanwhile, and also on Wednesday in the same America that has turned itself inside out with grief at the loss of a supreme court justice who was celebrated as a champion of gender equality but whose hagiography left little room to adequately address her poor record on racial equality, Louisville reminded us how unimportant a Black woman’s life is.

A grand jury in Kentucky did not charge any of the police officers who murdered Breonna Taylor in March. Instead, it indicted a single police officer for shooting into neighboring apartments - not at the Black woman who was sleeping in her bed in her home. Brett Hankison was charged with "wanton endangerment" for firing into a neighbour's apartment in Louisville. “Under Kentucky law, someone is guilty of wanton endangerment if they commit an act that shows ‘an extreme indifference to the value of human life’.” In this case, Breonna Taylor’s life was not even acknowledged. The neighbour’s apartment - property - was.

Fuck the police. Abolish the police. Do you understand why now?

Again: white girls are fed fairy tales of sleeping beauties woken by a white prince who breaks the spell that sent them into slumber. What are Black girls being taught by the death forced on Breonna Taylor as she slept?

Breonna Taylor was an emergency medical technician, a hero if there were any during these days of pandemic when the criminal-bordering-on-genocidal neglect of the Trump regime led to the deaths of more than 200,000 people. She was a medical worker, on the frontlines at a time when people applaud from behind the safety of their windows to thank those on the frontlines of this COVID19 “war.” Everything in America is a war and nothing about that war is fought on a level playing field, including those whose lives are most affected by that “war,” whether it is against drugs, graffiti, or terrorism.

I honestly don’t care what Breonna Taylor did or did not do during her shockingly short time on earth. Breonna Taylor was murdered as she slept in her bed in her home. And none of the police officers who barged into her apartment and murdered her are being held accountable. That’s it. She too was a hero in her own fairy tale. But it was still not enough to save her from white supremacist violence nor bring justice against the extreme indifference to her murder. Nothing is.

Again: white girls are fed fairy tales of sleeping beauties woken by a white prince who breaks the spell that sent them into slumber. What are Black girls being taught by the death forced on Breonna Taylor as she slept?

Whose lives are celebrated, whose lives matter, who is remembered, who is given an opportunity, whose oppressions are noted, whose success despite oppression is lauded, and who is considered important?

I mention that she was a medical worker because so many of the pictures that accompany her hashtagged name are of Breonna in her uniform. And also because white supremacist fucks on Fox News delight in demonizing Black people murdered by the police with the “S/He was no angel” trope, as if any amount of sainthood or “respectability” could save Black people or people of colour from white supremacy’s monopoly over violence.

Whose lives are celebrated, whose lives matter, who is remembered, who is given an opportunity, whose oppressions are noted, whose success despite oppression is lauded, and who is considered important?

America is fucked up in so many ways.

Who determines what is just? What power does justice uphold? Who can stick a middle finger up to justice? Can justice survive the tentacles of the octopus I call patriarchy? Fuck feminism-fits-all

From the highest court in the U.S. to a court in Kentucky: who is justice for? Who determines what is just? What power does justice uphold? Who can stick a middle finger up to justice? Can justice survive the tentacles of the octopus I call patriarchy?

This too is feminism. To ask those questions and to demand answers that insist that we see that a Supreme Court justice who is celebrated as a champion of gender equality was not one for racial equality. Answers that force us to recognize that Black women’s lives are not important.

Fuck feminism-fits-all. I urge you to read Black feminists.

Start here with this essay by Black feminist abolitionists Mariame Kabe and Andrea J. Ritchie: We Want More Justice for Breonna Taylor than the System that Killed Her Can Deliver

The Movement for Black Lives Must Include Black Women by Renee Nishawn Scott

The Say Her Name Campaign: Launched in December 2014 by the African American Policy Forum (AAPF) and Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies (CISPS), the #SayHerName campaign brings awareness to the often invisible names and stories of Black women and girls who have been victimized by racist police violence, and provides support to their families.

In addition to the (Supreme) Court’s devastating decisions upholding the Muslim Ban and Japanese internment in 1944, there have been centuries of Court decisions serving the governmental and societal structures of white supremacy. The Constitution itself was drafted to preserve the ownership of Black and Brown human beings through the chattel slave economy.

I refuse to submit to a hagiographic rendering of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the Supreme Court on which she sat. To do so would mean surrendering a necessary fight with white supremacist power and the injustice it serves to too many of us. To do so would mean ignoring the injustice served to Breonna Taylor and so many Black people in the United States. The Supreme Court is a branch of power with which as an anarchist feminist I will always wrestle.

Chase Strangio was on point in this essay: “In addition to the Court’s devastating decisions upholding the Muslim Ban this week and Japanese internment in 1944, there have been centuries of Court decisions serving the governmental and societal structures of white supremacy. The Constitution itself was drafted to preserve the ownership of Black and Brown human beings through the chattel slave economy.”

Even if you are not an anarchist, refuse to submit to hagiography, especially now, as the fascist fuck of a president prepares to nominate a justice to replace Ginsburg.

Understand that anyone who is not a white wealthy able-bodied, Christian, cisgender and heterosexual man is fucked. That is not only a nightmare. It is a fact.

Share

Mona Eltahawy is a feminist author, commentator and disruptor of patriarchy. Her first book Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution (2105) targeted patriarchy in the Middle East and North Africa and her second The Seven Necessary Sins For Women and Girls (2019) took her disruption worldwide. Her commentary has appeared in media around the world and she makes video essays and writes a newsletter as FEMINIST GIANT.  

FEMINIST GIANT Newsletter will always be free because I want it to be accessible to all. If you choose a paid subscriptions - thank you! I appreciate your support. If you like this piece and you want to further support my writing, you can like/comment below, forward this article to others, get a paid subscription if you don’t already have one or send a gift subscription to someone else today.